Aberdeen Ladies have had a tumultuous year and a half to say the least. After relegation from the Scottish Women’s Premier League one last season, the north east side may not have been expecting to be battling the drop once again this term.
The departure of Head Coach Stefan Laird has made survival no easier, but recent results had Aberdeen optimistic of a bright second half of the season.
This was until a 4-1 defeat on Wednesday night at Central Girls left the dons bottom of the table, their opponents leapfrogging them on goal difference.
Despite this set back, the side who now find themselves five points from safety will still be confident of turning things around.
Before Wednesday’s fixture, we spoke to Derek Gordon, who is overseeing the first team while the search for Laird’s replacement goes on, Gordon said: “The difficult period is not down to a lack of effort from the girls.”
Gordon thanked Laird for his time coaching the team, noting he has continued as the head of youth development, but admitted it was time for fresh ideas and a change.
Gordon said: “I think coaches know when it’s time to step down; you see it all the time. There were no problems with Stefan, the girls loved working with him, but he felt it was time for someone else to takeover.”
The defeat to Central will come as a massive blow for Gordon and his team, as it bookmarked the beginning of a crucial run, before and after the summer break, where the team will take on the sides around them.
Now eighth place, Aberdeen play hosts on Sunday to Edinburgh University Hutchison Vale, who sit sixth, before the summer break which ends on August fifth. The first fixture after the break will see Aberdeen travel to face Hearts, who are two points above Vale.
These fixtures of course can all be referred to as ‘six pointers’ – as Gordon admits these are exactly the clubs he believes Aberdeen can finish above: “We’ve got a good belief that with this squad we can finish in the top half. We’ve turned the corner recently.”
The disappointment is only added to as the loss to Central followed an impressive draw against league leaders Motherwell. Gordon heaped praise on his side for that result, claiming it showed their potential as a better team that they’ve shown: “The team proved that against Motherwell, the girls played fantastically.”
The belief among the club and observers alike is that the struggles come down to two issues. Firstly, the team start well but cannot maintain the performance level and trail off in the second half, occasionally making costly individual errors.
Secondly because of the overall age of the squad. Gordon said: “We’ve a young squad; we only have four players over the age of 20. A lot of the players have come up from our under 23’s, which is a difficult transition.”
Of course age is only a number, and the more experience this young squads gains, Gordon hopes will be reflected on the pitch.
A new formation and higher fitness levels are two major reasons Gordon believes Aberdeen can get more of the results they’ve struggled for this season.
Gordon also stressed the impact of the aid of Aberdeen men’s under 20’s player Ryan Harrington. The 19 year old right back, formerly of Everton, has been taking training along with Gordon.
“Ryan has had a fantastic impact; he’s able to bring knowledge from his time training with Aberdeen and Everton we otherwise wouldn’t benefit from.”
Gordon would love to have a new head coach in place for the second half of the season, but admits that may not happen. The biggest difficulty for the club at the moment is finding candidates with coaching badges that will take on a voluntary role.
Remaining in the league and pushing for promotion next season is vitally important for multiple reasons. The club is well aware of the importance of having more sides from the region competing at the highest level of Scottish women’s football, giving women in the area a chance to play. Aberdeen are the most northern team in the top two divisions, with Forfar and St Johnstone the nearest to them.
Gordon also stressed that “promising young players” from the under 23 side could lose out should the senior side be relegated. The under 23’s currently sit fifth in the Scottish Women’s Football League Division one – North. This is also the league their counterparts are at risk of demotion to, and due to league rules, the under 23’s side would be sent down to SWFL 2 – North, regardless of their own league placing.
Gordon said: “We absolutely cannot get relegated, the impact of relegation would be devastating.”
Attempting to recover from Wednesday’s defeat is only made more difficult due to Hutchinson Vale’s form. Vale had a terrific result on Wednesday, winning 4-0 against third place St Johnstone.
Aberdeen can take confidence in the fact the previous fixture between the two was a 4-0 success for the dons, one of only two victories this season.